This is a very special day, and I am honored to be here for the unveiling of a special run of commemorative stamps celebrating 50 years of the Peace Corps in Fiji.
Before I begin, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to the Philatelic Bureau and Post Office Fiji for their partnership and collaboration on this project. I’d like to pay particular recognition to Collin Yabaki, Director of the Department of Heritage and Arts. Thank you for coming today – your presence means a lot.
Additionally, I’d like to thank Mr. Isaac Mow, ACEO of Post Fiji and Managing Director of the Philatelic Bureau and Ms. Anjani Singh, Administrative Officer of the Philatelic Bureau for your assistance with this project. And – at the risk of embarrassing her publicly – I’d like to say a special thank you to our own Cultural Affairs Specialist Julie Sutherland of the U.S. Embassy who came up with this idea to commemorate 50 years of U.S. Corps in Fiji with these unique stamps.
On March 1, 1961, a young, new President – John F. Kennedy – signed an Executive Order creating the Peace Corps. Today, the Peace Corps is famous – and justifiably so. Back then, it was a bold initiative, informed by a bold vision. That young people, through service, can build friendships among nations. Since then, more than 200,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 139 countries around the world.
Fiji was one of the first. And I have to say one of the best. Over the past 50 years, more than 2,500 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Fiji. The first group of Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Fiji in early 1968 – the year I was born – beginning a long and meaningful history of friendship, cooperation, and learning between the peoples of the United States and Fiji – a relationship that endures to this day.
Over the past half century, Peace Corps Volunteers have shared their skills in agriculture, forestry, education, health and sanitation, vocational training, business development, and other subjects.
In the course of their training and service, they learned to speak Fijian – often specializing in particular dialects – and grew to be familiar with the diverse cultures of their host communities. And to their Fijian host communities and friends, they showed, by example, the best face of the United States.
Today, Peace Corps Volunteers live and work in 13 Fijian Provinces as part of the Community Youth Empowerment Program. They work hand-in-hand with local community members, ministries, nongovernmental organizations, and schools to enable youth to make healthier life decisions, to find opportunities for advancement, and to contribute to the development of their communities.
Today, we unveil this special run of commemorative postal stamps to mark the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Peace Corps in Fiji. The set includes four stamps depicting volunteers – current and from decades past — working in various communities throughout Fiji. I love looking at the different hairstyles and the different clothes. But though separated in time, the pictures on these stamps showcase a common dedication to community service and the strong friendships they have built with their Fijian host communities.
The U.S. Embassy funded the production of this special set of commemorative stamps, which were designed in cooperation with the Philatelic Society. They will be in circulation around the world for the next two years. They not only highlight the Peace Corps in Fiji, but serve to refocus attention on the Peace Corps’ enduring vision of service in the cause of peace and understanding.
We tend to take postage stamps for granted: they are small pieces of paper and in the internet age, they seem almost quaint. But make no mistake: stamps are still used by many countries, including Fiji, to mail letters and packages. And they remain important messengers. I used to collect stamps – as do millions worldwide, five million in the U.S. alone.
There is something special about stamps. Just as there still is something special about receiving a real letter in the mail, just as it is nice to read a real book instead of looking at a screen. And so we are particularly proud of this initiative. As the stamps we launch today start their journey in the region and worldwide, they will carry the images of partnership, friendship, and peace that characterizes the 50 years of Peace Corps in Fiji.